Looking forward, giving back
August 11, 2021
Yolanda Simpson has always dreamed of creating a scholarship for underrepresented students in STEM. When she received the Eve Carson Scholarship during the spring semester, that dream turned into reality.
“This is my way of giving back to the community that gave so much to me growing up,” Simpson said.
The Eve Carson Scholarship, named for former UNC student body president Eve Marie Carson, was created in 2008 to recognize junior-year students who have exhibited transformative growth since entering Carolina. The merit-based award will provide Simpson with $15,000 towards her senior year at UNC, as well as $5,000 for a summer experience.
A portion of the summer experience award will fund Simpson’s new “Courage to Succeed” scholarship for first-year students entering college this fall. Up to five students from underrepresented backgrounds who intend to pursue STEM majors will each receive a $300 book scholarship to help defray their college expenses.
Simpson, a biochemistry and neuroscience double-major from Hillsborough, NC recognizes that the lack of minority representation in STEM fields can be a deterrent to students interested in pursuing those subjects.
“I grew up in a predominantly white area, where many of my classes and activities severely lacked people of color,” Simpson said. “Despite having many strong women of color to look to for mentorship in other areas, I never saw someone who looked like me in a STEM field, which made it so much harder for me to commit to pursuing that in college. I had to become the representation I wished to see.”
Through the Chancellor’s Science Scholars Program, Simpson was able to benefit from the program’s peer support and cohort community, finding her home in STEM. She hopes to connect the recipients of the Courage to Succeed Scholarship, helping them form their own support network as they transition from high school to college and find their way in STEM.
“I have always valued creating meaningful interpersonal relationships,” said Simpson, adding that she hopes this network of support will help students through the high school-to-college transition period and give them a community of likeminded peers to motivate and inspire each other.
Simpson is also honoring Carson’s legacy of impact through extensive volunteer work in the UNC community, most of which centers around expanding STEM opportunities for students.
“Usually, whenever I see an opportunity, I try to make it work if it can fit into my schedule,” she said. “I mostly lean towards helping with programs that serve children of color and involve STEM, since I know how impactful those programs can be for students who don’t always see people who look like them in those fields.”
Simpson mentors younger CSS scholars, volunteers with FEMMES – a camp for middle-school girls to explore STEM subjects – and serves as an ambassador for the Office of Undergraduate Research. In each role, she works to be a visible blueprint for those who come after her.
“I am committed to making an impact in this community, and every community I’m a part of, because ensuring the success of the next generation of scientists will ultimately help me give back to those who helped me succeed,” said Simpson.
“Every day is an opportunity to prove to myself and others that it is possible for anyone to achieve their goals, even if you are the first person who looks like you to do so.”